Sunday, March 9, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side, a documentary about Torture

Media Matters, March 2, 2008, This week our guest is Alex Gibney, 2008 Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature for his film Taxi to the Dark Side. The interview makes this sound like a very important documentary about the U.S. move to the dark side. In 2001 V.P. Dick Cheney told us that in pursuing the war on Terror we, that is the U.S., would have to engage in dark activities and to work with nasty people. So here we are with a country that is now committing torture, a country who has an idealism that is being ignored by U.S. leaders like V.P. Cheney.

In December 2002, an Afghan named Dilawar had scraped together enough money to buy a taxi. He was fingered by a paid informant as a terrorist connected with a rocket attack. Taken to the American prison at Bagram, Afghanistan, he was tortured so violently that he died after five days. An autopsy showed that his legs were so badly mauled, they would have had to be amputated, had he lived. Later, the informant who collected U.S. money for fingering him was proven to be the terrorist actually responsible for the crime the innocent Dilawar was charged with.

An official report said Dilawar died of "natural causes." The New York Times found an autopsy report describing the death as a homicide. After a belated investigation, a few U.S. soldiers were accused of the murder. No officers were involved. Dilawar was the first casualty after we started to "work the dark side." In all the torture scandals since, few officers have ever been charged. If all of these crimes took place without their knowledge, they would appear to be guilty of dereliction of duty, if nothing else.

-- Taxi to the Dark Side

In the Media Matters interview the director discusses several forms of cost related to the practice torture. The above is one cost, an innocent man who was fingered by another, and who died during "interrogation". This cost is the loss of life. However he also discussed another instance, one of the "high value detainees" who was transferred from FBI interrogation at Bagram Air Base through the CIA Extraordinary Rendition program to Egypt and officials who are more amenable to, ahem, cough, cough, enhanced interrogation techniques. The same sort of techniques which Pres Bush wants to allow (see: Bush veto limits on torture? Or did Bush say he supports use of torture?). That high value detainee was providing useful and actionable intelligence, but it was not the story which VP Cheney and Pres Bush wanted to hear, hence the transfer to the Egyptians. Under torture this high value detainee told the interrogators a pack of lies and those lies were later used to justify the invasion of Iraq.

That's the cost.. the blunderbuss of the wrong war at the wrong time against the wrong people which has visited upon the Iraqi's untold pain and suffering.

In the interview he discussed how, after World War II, the German military elite were prosecuted for war crimes under the doctrine of "command responsibility". Think about the Abu Ghraib scandal, supposedly perpetrated by some bad apples in the lowest ranks. However it was committed in the context of an administration who was investigating all the legal angles to justify the use of torture. They wrote many memo's discussing anti-torture laws as "quaint" and old-fashioned, and were they doing that just to hone their legal skills, or were they doing so to provide cover for a program of committing torture?

KENNETH ROTH: The Bush administration very deliberately doesn’t promote human rights. It promotes this soft fuzzy concept of democracy. And the reason it does that is because it’s too embarrassing to talk about human rights when it’s been responsible for so many human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism. So it falls back on this feel-good concept.

- Taxi to the Dark Side: Oscar-Nominated Documentary Film Explores U.S. Abuses in “War on Terror”

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